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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Great Expectations 2. By John von Daler

                         "No, no! You cannot play the pirate captain! You're too little! The peg leg won't even fit you. You'll look like you have a tree growing out of your knee."

                I looked at my five-year-old friend, Jimmy. A tear surfaced at the bottom edge of his eye, but he was no slouch. I knew he would get a deal out of this somehow, so I just waited to hear what his angle was going to be.
                "All right, doggone it! If you get the pegleg and the patch and the big hat and the pistol, then I get to be the American admiral who beats you in a hand to hand sword fight. And I win the money, the jewelry and the girl you captured."
                We turned a moment toward the four-year-old girl from down the block. She had found one of my sister's old dolls and was playing on the floor with it. She seemed very content to be a captive.
                I had gotten myself into a fix by choosing to be the pirate. After all, there were only the three of us, and we each had to have a role. The pirate had seemed to be the most dashing of the three possible parts, but I had not counted on him losing. Losing was a big thing. It was like being a Dodger and not a Yankee. It was like being the Japanese in the Second World War.
                We stared at each other for a moment.
                "All right," I said. "But I wound you in the first sword fight. You gotta yelp really loud."
                We checked out our costumes. Jimmy, the American admiral, looked more or less like a cowboy, but we figured that would show how American he was. The girl, well, we gave her a scarf and a plastic necklace. The doll she was going to have to give up. But as we tried to take it away she started to cry, so we decided it was her kid and that it had been with her down in the locked cabin.
                I had all the good stuff: a fine wooden sword to fight with, a patch, a Napoleon hat made out of newspapers and a kaleidoscope we were going to use as a spyglass. Best of course was the pirate leg, made from an old tea-table leg we had found in the garage. The screw kind of hurt my knee after we tied the thing on, but I would suffer anything for this role.
                We had rigged up a curtain across the space between the bunk bed and the other wall where a ladder held up its end of the stage opening. Then we had moved six chairs in so that our parents and sisters could see the show. The little girl's parents we did not invite.
                "So," I said,"What are we going to say? Should we practice saying stuff to each other?"
                Jimmy looked at me as if I were crazy.
                "Say?" he said. "We an't gonna say nothing. We' just gonna put on one good fight and then I save the girl and then you try to get loose and then I capture you in another fight and put my foot on your chest."
                "Blood" I remembered. "What about blood?"
                But the more I thought about it the less I could imagine pouring some ketchup on the new carpet; some instinct told me that the border between art and life passed through here at just about that point.
                "So," Jimmy said after I talked him out of the blood by promising a bowl of ice-cream when we were finished, "Let's call everyoneses in here."

                Here the memory fades, its trail leaving off somewhere close to Søren Kierkegaard and the great joy he was convinced could be found not in events, but in the expectation of events. Never since those first childrens' dramas have I loved any play as much as that first moment when, program in hand, I sit down in my seat to await the dimming of the lights. The sound of the words and music and the quandries of the plots all play out exquisitely in my mind beforehand, in just the way that I saw the pirate and the admiral and the damsel-in-distress in a heroic exchange long before our parents crowded into my bedroom to watch Jimmy and me hack at each other with our swords while the little girl cried pitifully as she clutched her doll to her stomach in abject distress.

                My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces at the top of the blog. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!

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